The Best Old Movies on a Big Screen This Week: NYC Repertory Cinema Picks, September 14-20

Jeanne Moreau, Marcello Mastroianni and Monica Vitti in Michelangelo Antonioni's LA NOTTE (1961). Courtesy Film Forum. Playing Wednesday, September 14 - Thursday, September 22. La Notte (1961)
Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni
Easy to parody, impossible to replicate, what Andrew Sarris called “Antoniennui”—glamorous European movie stars composed in tableaux in front of brutalist architecture, speaking past each other in existential aphorisms—can be embraced as a Marxist-influence tract on the alienation of contemporary life or snorted at as chic pretention, equal and opposite visceral reactions to ambitious modern aesthetics which in either case and for better and worse say more about you than about the film. Though actually, beyond the Berselli-tailored early-60s zeitgeist, it’s no stretch to point out that inexplicable fatigue, boredom with yourself even more than others, inability to focus on a task or be present for a conversation are hardly abstract conceits—as you surely know already if you arrived at this page via Twitter.

La Notte, the middle film of Antonioni’s name-making, purely distilled “trilogy” with L’Avventura (1960) and L’Eclisse (1962), is an incredibly relatable portrait of distracted disaffection and residual tenderness in the last 24 viable hours of a marriage. In the opening scene, author Marcello Mastroianni and heiress wife Jeanne Moreau visit a dying friend in a scene which, with the oblique precision of a play, lays out the inevitability of disappointment, the finality of regret, and the failure of love, projecting a shade of self-pity that colors Mastroianni and Moreau’s dual dances of withdrawal into the self and desperate leaps out into the world. At a mostly empty nightclub, while a black dancer performs an elaborate gymnastic striptease to hot jazz, you see the mostly silent couple struggling to remember that they chose to be alone, together; then it’s off to a “come-dressed-as-the-sick-soul-of-Europe” party, in Pauline Kael’s coinage, at the villa of a rich industrialist (it’s predictably full of vampiristic capital and vapid amusements, but also extras executing sight gags in the back of the frame, as if they’ve wandered in from a party at Fellini’s or Blake Edwards’s filmography). There, both meet depressed little rich girl Monica Vitti, with a pile of hair as black as runny mascara, who holds a mirror up to their sadness and inspires an upswelling of gratitude and dependency in Mastroianni and a draining-away of illusions in Moreau, the two wrestle to a stalemate in an ending Kubrick rewrote as happy for Eyes Wide Shut. Mark Asch (September 14-22 at Film Forum; showtimes daily)

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The Roaring Twenties (1939)
Directed by Raoul Walsh
Along with Little Caesar (1931) and The Public Enemy (1931), The Roaring Twenties belongs in the holy trinity of archetypal gangster films made in Classic Hollywood it’s the best of the bunch, with is propulsive, no-nonsense direction by Raoul Walsh, who makes ample use of pans and push-ins for his first feature for Warner Bros. Like those earlier movies, Roaring Twenties has a “rise and fall structure,” anchored around one Eddie Bartlett (James Cagney), a WWI vet returning home, back in New York City, jobless. In the Prohibition Era, he becomes a bootlegger working his way up in the hooch business. Where Cagney plays a guy who becomes a criminal because of social pressures, Humphrey Bogart (still a supporting player, in a period when his world-weary persona hadn’t solidified yet) is a stone-cold killer. They’re doubles. Where Cagney has a conscious, Bogie has a black hole. Tanner Tafelski (September 15, 1:30pm at MoMA’s Bogart matinees)

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Ulzana’s Raid (1972)
Directed by Robert Aldrich
A woman and her son are being escorted across hostile terrain when a group of Native Americans ride up on them, murder in their eyes. The cavalryman assigned to the hapless civilians turns tail and flees on his horse. The woman, fearing death or worse, screams after the retreating white man. He hears her, turns his horse around and returns, only to shoot her between the eyes to spare her an imagined fate. Then the soldier is killed and scalped for his bravery. This you might call the Aldrich touch. A bruiser of an auteur, Aldrich fried up American masculinity like his subjects were ants under a microscope. No film of his was more scorching, less forgiving than Ulzana’s Raid. Burt Lancaster, looking so tired he makes you want a shower and a glass of water, leads a party of green army officers on the trail of a war chief out for blood. Nothing goes well for anyone. Violence only succeeds for one side because they fully abandon humanity for the sake of a more righteous cause. Ego doesn’t enter into it. Aldrich sympathizes, mercilessly toying with John Ford’s pilgrims a thousand bloody miles deeper into the desert than any American filmmaker had yet ventured. Tie a yellow ribbon around a wound and it may stop the bleeding, but it can’t hold your scalp on. Scout Tafoya (September 15, 2pm, 9:15pm; September 16, 7:15pm at the Metrograph’s Aldrich series)

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The Pirate (1948)
Directed by Vincente Minnelli
When Channing Tatum did a Gene Kelly number in Hail, Caesar! it was perfect and inevitable: who else but Magic Mike to pay homage to the man with a sense of timing like a matador, fast-twitch muscles like an athlete, a grin like a corgi, and a tush to make the internet stand up and cheer? Kelly’s inimitable mix of musical-theater corniness and pelvic physicality finds its ideal screen partner in Judy Garland, whose earnest avidity often stopped just short of alarming, but here seems the very least that’s appropriate. Garland’s the rich girl of the Carribean who dreams, with eyes wide open and voice a-trembling, of being abducted by the legendary pirate “Mack the Black”; Kelly’s the traveling tumbler who’s not above a little make-believe. On proscenium stages, in costume-closet silks with no credible real-world antecedent, the two stage a pageant of G-rated thirst that ascends to a fever pitch of hysteria and hilarity. (Incidentally, Anchors Aweigh, the gee-whiz double-entendre feast which inspired Tatum’s “No Dames” in Hail, Caesar!, also plays this week at BAM’s MGM musicals series.) Mark Asch (September 16, 2pn, 4:30pm, 7pm, 9:15pm; September 17, 7pm, 9:15pm at BAM’s “That’s Entertainment!: MGM Musicals, Part I”)

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A Movie (1958)
Directed by Bruce Conner
With A Movie, Conner emerged as a pioneer of the found-footage film, setting the table for other experimental artists like Craig Baldwin, Chick Strand, Keith Sanborn, and Abigail Child, among others. But if A Movie can be said to be foundational or genre-founding, it must first be acknowledged that its genre is only one in a negative sense, a sort of anti-genre. For the found-footage film looks up to the family of genres from below, from the lowly vantage of the cutting-room floor or the anonymity of some derelict archive.

The found-footage film lives in an exquisite tension between chance and construction; it maintains a balancing act between mimicry—alternately ironical and critical—of regular old channel surfing and more distinguished modernist practices of montage and collage. In exactly this manner, A Movie is fashioned out of a motley of scenes from cinema, TV, instructional films, discarded stock footage, and underground stag movies, all literally glued together into a single strip. A montage of locomotion—horses, trains, elephants, race cars, cowboys chasing indians chasing cowboys—emanates the raw sense of power and speed so fundamental to the American imaginary of the time. Mixed footage of war playing against a vainglorious tune suggestive of victory conjures the catastrophe of human sacrifice and its crass spectacularization in omnipresent media. Interpolated between the bits and pieces of the film are recurring title cards reading THE END, BRUCE CONNER, and A MOVIE, in shifting, dizzying order. Michael Blum (At MoMA’s “Movie in My Head: Bruce Conner and Beyond,” in the Opening Night program screening September 16, 7pm; the shorts program screening September 17 and September 22, 4pm; and the shorts program screening September 17, 7:30pm and September 25, 5pm)

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Shoes (1916)
Directed by Lois Weber
In the 1910s, a few great, prolific Hollywood filmmakers made a practice of exposing problems facing their impoverished fellows. While the compassionate social exposés helmed by Charles Chaplin and D.W. Griffith continue to be celebrated today, those made by Lois Weber are seldom shown. Most of the works of this multihyphenate film artist—including the first-ever feature directed by a woman, 1914’s The Merchant of Venice—are considered lost today, and several of the ones that survive do so in damaged and fragmented prints. The distributor Milestone Films is now releasing new digital restorations of two of the 27 films Weber directed in 1916, including the short feature Shoes, whose new version (based on a previous restoration by the EYE Film Institute Netherlands) was created with the aid of the film’s only recently rediscovered original script.

Shoes tells the story of a lost person—a young woman named Eva (played by Mary MacLaren) who works in a five-and-ten-cent store as her family’s lone breadwinner in a pair of shoes whose soles keep falling away. Each day she passes a shop with new boots in its window and hopes to eventually save up enough. Eve supports her lazy father (Harry Griffith) and hungry mother (Mattie Witting) and siblings to the point of exhaustion, and eventually succumbs to the attentions of a creepy cash-holding singer named Charlie (William V. Mong) in an effort to support herself. The film reveals Eva’s stifled hopes and dreams to us within the context of hard material reality. Scenes shot on location throughout then-contemporary Los Angeles have their drama—and intimate sympathy—concentrated on a human being’s face. Shoes will screen at Anthology Film Archives together with The Rosary and Suspense, two shorts co-directed by Weber and her husband and frequent collaborator Phillips Smalley. All three screenings will be introduced by guest speakers. Aaron Cutler (September 16, 9:15pm; September 22, 7:15pm; September 25, 4pm at Anthology Film Archives’s “Woman with a Movie Camera: Female Film Directors Before 1950”)

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My Night at Maud’s (1969)
Directed by Éric Rohmer
The fourth of the “six moral tales” directed by the oldest member of the Nouvelle Vague marks a shift in perspective and visual style from the third, La collectionneuse: filming in black and white, with a tighter script, here Rohmer not only demonstrates his natural talent for filming conversations, but also for representing them visually even when the characters aren’t speaking. As Jean-Louis (Jean-Louis Trintignant) spends the night with Maud (Françoise Fabian), a temptress widow who tries to break Jean-Louis’s Christian commitment to a woman he’s never talked to, the movements of the eyes, the way arms fold or the way the characters stand and then sit down, or vice-versa, tells a lot more about what they are truly feeling than the long conversations about the existence of God. At times the centerpiece scene mimics a chess game, with Maud and Jean-Louis moving through different rooms of the house, planning quietly, maintaining a certain distance to then advance and make the other flee. Jaime Grijalba (September 17, 25 4:30pm; September 18, 24, 8:45pm as part of the Six Moral Tales at the Film Society of Lincoln Center)

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Boogie Nights (1997)
Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson
Eddie Adams of the San Fernando Valley works in a car wash by day and as a nightclub dishwasher by night, where in a seedy backroom he also gives strangers a view of what’s underneath his bellbottoms for a few dollars. Director Jack Horner (a silvered, pragmatic Burt Reynolds) spots Eddie from across the club and in his gut is convinced that Eddie has “something wonderful just waiting to get out.” He enlists Rollergirl (Heather Graham, quintessential teenage ingenue) to follow Eddie and offer him oral sex, and when she discovers what’s beneath his dishwashing whites, a (porn) star is born.

Anderson’s second full-length picture is a late-1970s dysfunctional-family portrait full of exacerbated lust, blowjobs, and cocaine-fueled confessions. It’s a sprawling, tumultuous fireball of a film that instead of putting the porn industry on a pedestal, shows the nitty-gritty of sex as a career through its humdrum sets and inner turmoil amongst the cast and crew. Just like any other family, there are petty disagreements and egotistical tantrums—from house mother Amber Waves (a scene-stealing Julianne Moore), abandoning her real son for a life of hedonism, to Reed Rothchild’s (John C. Reilly doing his best John C. Reilly) love/hate relationship with Eddie, soon-to-be Dirk Diggler, and Scotty J.’s (a perfectly awkward Philip Seymour Hoffman) consuming desire and obsession with Dirk. The family that makes porn together stays together, though, and with help from the forever-underused Melora Walters and Don Cheadle’s lovelorn Buck, this family sets aside their differences and for a while, at least, gets to ride Diggler’s coattails to sexual affluence and notoriety within their community.

Mark Wahlberg’s career-defining turn as Eddie/Dirk is as epic as the film; he spends the first half creating personal bonds, and the second half destroying them when they don’t align with his drug use and his ego. As Dirk and the rest of Jack Horner’s family make their way into the 1980s—which Anderson marks with a staggering sequence ending in a murder/suicide—they are shaken by the inevitable rise of video versus film, the need for “real people” from the porn-purchasing public, and the replacement of sex with money as a prominent aphrodisiac. Soon their intimacy begins to crumble, as does Diggler’s hard-on, and the old are sent to pasture and back to jacking off for a few dollars in a stranger’s car. Anderson could never leave his arc incomplete, however, and after a failed robbery attempt and gun-fueled Rick Springfield sing-along with robed Alfred Molina, Dirk eventually succumbs to his own vainglorious ways and apologizes to his mentor and the rest of the Horner family.

Amid inevitable comparisons to Robert Altman and Martin Scorsese, Anderson created something of his own, a wild, aptly penned blockbuster with less emphasis on the porn than on the industry. Samantha Vacca (September 18, 2pm at the Museum of the Moving Image’s Philip Seymour Hoffman retrospective)

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À nos amours (1983)
Directed by Maurice Pialat
We first see Suzanne (Sandrine Bonnaire, in her first starring role) rehearsing the lead in a summer camp play. Though the screenplay doesn’t belabor the point, the play is the story of a young woman who, taught by her embittered elders to mistrust love, abandons her soulmate to live unhappily ever after. That, in a nutshell, is Suzanne’s story and the narrative arc of À nos Amours, a brilliant work of fatalistic realism that views even its youthful love scenes through a scrim of melancholy. Bonnaire is mesmerizing as a strongwilled young woman whose instincts are continually undermined by her borderline incestuous father and brother and her neurotically resentful mother. Suzanne seeks refuge from her volatile home life mainly through sex, which serves both as a diversion from and a cause of pain, alternating between self-discovery, self-gratification, and self-sabotage. Meanwhile, she struggles with the conundrum faced by so many beautiful young women: She is ogled by all and truly seen by almost no one. The myriad traits, many of them harsh, assigned to her by her self-interested observers make it all the more difficult for her to do the hard work of adolescence: figuring out who she is and what she wants from life. Elise Nakhnikian (September 20, 4pm at FIAF)

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Shepherds of Calamity (1967)
Directed by Nikos Papatakis
Allegedly filmed underground during the Colonels’ Dictatorship in Greece, Papatakis’s sophomore feature looks at the retrograde societal mores on which the military grip of reactionary juntas rely to harvest consent. The archetypal tropes of Romeo and Juliet are relocated to the Greek countryside, where a peasant cannot marry the daughter of the local landlord as per the unwritten rules of class and moral hypocrisy. But our restless peasant, very much like the director, will not settle for less as the stormy love story spins of out the established control in a film that combines the impetus of expressionism with the lineaments of neorealism. Shepherds of Disorder is a rare opportunity to watch one of the only five movies that the stateless Greek director made in his long and intrepid life—in which cinema played a minor but indelible part. Giovanni Vimercati (September 20, 8pm at Tenant416)

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